Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, January 9


It seems that most of the maladies I’ve tackled here in Africa have been contracted by something liquid. The problem is the contaminated water. We have filters, bleach droppers, and even pre-filtered bottled water… but as it usually does in life, shit happens. There are times when I run out of water in my carrying bottle long before I know I’ll make it back to a vendor or my treated stash. It’s at these times that I think to myself “diarrhea is way easier to treat than dehydration.” I know what you’re thinking, diarrhea leads to dehydration… but that’s only if I still haven’t made it back to water by then. And when I get dehydrated I stop functioning like a rational human being, which makes getting anywhere in this blistering sand box a whole hell of a lot worse. And my final argument is the ability to stop at any house on the way home and beg the use their hole in the ground toilet… but once I’ve made the commitment to not drink untreated water, there’s no stopping by any old house begging for water.

So, once getting myself into a waterless predicament, then choosing the lesser of the two evils and chancing the contaminated water, there is nothing to do but cross my fingers and pray to not spend quality time with my toilet. But, you know, shit happens.

Plus side is that a good number of maladies have also been cured by some of my new favorite liquids. Stomach cramp, constipation, or urinary tract infection: bissap juice. Irritated stomach or amoebas of some kind: ginger juice. Dizziness, high blood pressure, dehydration: treated water (generally in mass quantities) mixed with oral rehydration salts. Laziness, tiredness, or lack of motivation: café Touba. Sweet tooth or lack of appetite: Senegalese tea. Depleted stash of water flavoring packets: Foster’s Clark fruit drink mix packets. Stress, irritability, or general need to relax: beer.

I know a few of these might be foreign words that you’ve spent a good 3 minutes deciding how to pronounce, so I figure we should go into more detail.

A glass of icy bissap juice is actually sundried hibiscus flowers that have been soaked in water. That water was then drained, mixed with sugar (and extracts of any kind or lemon juice), and then chilled. Fancier versions include soaking mint in with the flower petals. It is similar in color and taste to cranberry juice, and I can personally attest to its third likeness to the fruit with respect to urinary tract infections. If brewed in hot water, it tastes more like a berry tea and does seem to help with anything variety of stomach cramping knots. However, beware not to drink more than a few glasses of bissap because in large quantities it acts as both a diuretic and caffeine. No one wants to be awake all night running to the bathroom every half hour. Trust me; I’ve made that mistake already.

For a spin, mix it with orangina (soda water with a dose of orange flavor) for a kiddy cocktail, with gin for a man’s drink, or rum and sprite for something a bit fancier. If you find yourself in Dakar where rum is strangely in short supply substitute whiskey and continue about your evening. It won’t taste all that great, but then again what were you expecting?

Bissap can be found in syrup form (a thriving enterprise among women’s groups), purchased on the streets made with local water and sold at reduced prices, occasionally by the glass for exorbitant prices in restaurants, or in the grocery stores by the carton.

Café Touba can best be described as strong hot Starbucks coffee mixed with chai spices. Because the Senegalese love their sugar so much there is an excessive amount in there. Like any coffee, caffeine is the key ingredient, but this mixture will have you off your ass before you can finish the espresso shot serving size portion.

Senegalese tea is similar to the Café Touba in that it too will be served with copious amounts of sugar in a shot sized serving. It is brewed with Chinese green tea for round one, even more sugar in round two and with mint by round three. Don’t drink on an empty stomach because you will get sick. It is typically served after lunch as a digestive while more sugar conscious individuals are partaking of siesta.  

Foster’s Clark is the only thing getting me through the monotony of daily water consumption. Before you start making noise about my finicky pallet, I suggest you try filtered beached water for breakfast lunch and dinner for any duration of time. Right. So Foster’s Clark makes all sorts of great flavors like orange, apple, guava, passion fruit, peach, mango, and even Coca Cola. Mix ‘em with a large bottle of water and enjoy for about 30 min until your next bottle (because that’s how fast we go through water in the hot season).

And last but not least, Senegal produces a total of four beers on its soil. Flag and Gazelle were the only two around when I landed. A Flag tastes like a wheat version of Budweiser while Gazelle is like a Miller Lite that only gets better when you add a lime wedge Corona style. I was immediately drawn to Gazelle for its great quantity for the money ratio and taste. Later in my service two more beers were introduced: 33 and Pelforth. 33 is somewhere between Flag and Gazelle in taste and bottle size, where as the Pelforth is an amber ale. There are some imports that are available in bigger cities for more money, but who can be bothered? Hmm, yeah I stuck with my old faithful. 

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